Harry Sharp tapped for Green Acres receivership

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 26, 2009

Harry Sharp of Vicksburg, whose business background includes cemetery management, was named Wednesday to head a receivership established by court order to operate Green Acres Memorial Park.

Sharp is owner of Sharp Enterprises of Vicksburg. The Duff Green Mansion, a tour home and bed and breakfast, is a Sharp property, and he is also volunteer chairman of the Vicksburg Main Street board of directors.

In the role, he will assume all day-to-day operations, including the sale of pre-need and at-need goods and services for the 15-acre commercial cemetery and management of the cemetery’s funds under court oversight.

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Green Acres came under court supervision in January after Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said the owners, who live in Texas, could not show compliance with a state law requiring pre-payments by customers being held in reserve.

Dave Scott, head of the Secretary of State’s Office’s Division of Business Regulation and Enforcement, said the quest to track down more than $370,000 in money missing from the cemetery’s pre-need trust account will continue. The division oversees the accounts, into which 85 percent of pre-paid services for cemetery merchandise must be paid.

The receivership “also will allow the selling of lots to begin again,” Scott said.

Sharp will be paid $1,000 a month, plus out-of-pocket expenses incurred while carrying out the receiver’s duties. His selection by state officials was because of his local ties and his experience in the cemetery business in his native south Florida, Sharp said. There, he ran two facilities and had business acquaintances with many in the industry, including Green Acres’ longtime former owner, Joe Varner. Green Acres’ problems aren’t necessarily unique, Sharp said, but challenges ahead are multiple.

“It’s not an easy situation,” Sharp said of the cemetery’s financial state. “The first thing will be to address the maintenance.”

Additional functions of the receivership involve opening and closing of graves, placing of vaults and the purchase and placement of markers for at-need contracts. Sharp will also notify the Secretary of State’s Office weekly of all banking transactions and any expenditure more than $750. Sharp will also have power to hire and fire personnel and set “reasonable salaries for employees and independent contractors,” according to a court order from Chancellor Vicki Barnes. All employees of the cemetery were fired in January and have not received any income from Houston-based Mike Graham and Associates since then.

“With the appointment of Mr. Sharp as receiver, Green Acres will be able to resume providing services to the people of Vicksburg,” Hosemann said in a statement. “Hopefully citizens will be able to move forward with their pre-need funeral plans and once again begin to have faith in the organization they trust with their most sensitive arrangements.”

Hosemann emphasized the cemetery is “not out of the woods yet” and funds are limited to the receivership “due to the dire financial situation of Green Acres.”

Court holds have been placed on business and trust accounts held in Mississippi, including Vicksburg, and Florida as a result of the initial action by the state on Jan. 23. Company representatives have hired local law firm Wheeless, Shappley, Bailess & Rector, but have not appeared in court.

In addition to the company and its deceased namesake’s daughter, Stephanie, the names of five company officials have been added to the probe. It includes Graham’s widow, Linda Tubbs, the employee identified in the state’s testimony as having oversight of the pre-need trust account at the time of the current probe, and employees Yolanda Horne, Donald R. Hughes and A.M. Brewer, who managed several Graham-owned properties in Alabama.

More than 700 holders of cemetery deeds and other Green Acres-related documents have filed them in the Warren County Chancery Clerk’s Office to prove their worth in case of need. Some of those paid in advance for markers and grave opening and closing services. Deeds are good, but indications are that customers may have simply lost all amounts advanced for goods and services.

Seven additional funeral industry firms in Mississippi were targeted for action by Hosemann’s office in the sweep. Corporate reporting violations alleged at Green Acres were the most serious individual case, in terms of the total of missing money.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at dbarrett@vicksburgpost.com